PALOS VERDES, CA - Gather 200 generous guests on a Sunday evening in a newly bought home, give them a worthy cause, host them warmly, wine and dine them. What you get is a pouring of generosity that’s adds up to $500,000 for the worthy cause. Under the strings of lights that twinkled overhead from the palm trees,
Generous hearts clad in their Sunday best, devoured the vegetarian food, sipped the Napa wine and listened as emotions flowed as they were asked to “open the door to let others in” and “cross the street to help them.”
Akshaya Patra, in Sanskrit means - inexhaustible vessel. It is from the Hindu epic, Mahabharata and is believed to have been a vessel given to Yudhishtira by the Lord Surya which held a never-failing supply of food for the Pandavas.
That was 5,000 years ago – today in 2014 Akshaya Patra simply means - freshly prepared school meals every day, for 1.4 million children in India to fight hunger, promote education, and eradicate poverty - one child at a time. The school meal provided by Akshaya Patra has helped in increasing attendance and enrollment, especially among girls, and reduced the drop-out rate.
It costs Akshaya Patra $30 to feed a child for a whole year. It receives half of its funding from the government, which is $15 per child per year. While it raises 80% of the other half from within India it reaches out to NRIs to help fund new kitchens. The Mid Day Meal Scheme is a government program inspired by the mid-day meal program of the Great Depression in the US.
Mallika Chopra, daughter of the renowned Dr. Deepak Chopra took the stage to reiterate her support for the cause and introduce entrepreneur Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande who is helping spearhead the Akshaya Patra movement.
Deshpande made clear the direction of the organization stating, “our bottom line is – the children.” He spoke of excellence and prosperity, saying it was everyone’s responsibility to share prosperity “to keep hope alive.” Pointing out that education is key in making each one a productive part of the economy, he added, “Love without action is hopeless. Action without love is useless. Let all the action be with love to enroll and feed.” On former President Clinton’s visit last July to the organization’s kitchen in Jaipur, Deshpande said Akshaya Patra had been picked out of 2,800 other organizations by the Clinton Global Initiative for the President to visit personally.
There was also an ultra emotional plea from film director Shekhar Kapur, as he said in a somber voice, “In the act of giving, those who receive are giving you far more than you are giving them - because they’re giving you value for your lives.” He explained the need to fill the, “gap – cross the road, open the door.” and share what we have with those that do not have enough, be it food or space. “Let us not forget the top of the pyramid is supported by the bottom of the pyramid,” he added. “You cannot keep the pressure of the top of the pyramid so heavy that the bottom of the pyramid just explodes.”
Office bearers of Akshaya Patra also spoke briefly. The CEO of Akshaya Patra USA, Emily Rosenbaum, said the movement was a “celebration of life, hope and beauty of the children.” She added, “it is the finest commitment made in the history of The Clinton Global Initiative.” Geeta Kulkarni, the West Coast Representative said she would be happy to help anyone present to visit a kitchen in India and witness the working of the organization.
The Akshaya Patra kitchen is a supply chain in full perfection. Efficiency and effectiveness at its best. From procurement to sourcing, the process starts at 3 am and is complete by 11 am. By noon, 1.4 million kids in 10 states get a hearty meal, for some maybe the only meal they will get till next noon.
Special guest Manish Dayal, star of “The Hundred-Foot Journey” was also in attendance as a show of support. A gracious and rising star, Deshpande referred to him as, “our next generation here, helping our next generation back in India.”
Ravi Tilak concluded the evening on a spiritually awakening thought: “Prakruti is the urge to eat.” He said, “Vikruti is when we eat even when we are not hungry. Sanskriti is remembering those that do not have enough and saving a portion of your food for them.”
To a thundering applause and open hearts and wallets, a warm scrumptious meal was served.
The attentive crowds were entertained at the event by the Nrityodaya Dance Academy. Ankita Bordoloi, Shikha Kumar and Deeya Kumar performed a Kathak piece and Vinaini Jayasinghe performed the final dance –showcasing the varied classical forms of the north and south of India. In keeping with the “Gandhian philosophy” of non-violence Akshaya Patra decided to only make soft appeals for donations. It was interesting to see that without any arm twisting people were more conducive to giving. Such possibilities of fund-raising may be looked at by other charitable organizations in the community. The effect of Akshaya Patra is a win-win situation. Price of the food = attend school. What a deal!